Canadian-born Leafs fans will have their loyalties conflicted this Friday afternoon when Team USA takes on Team Canada in the Olympic semifinals. On one hand we have Team Canada’s gold medal hopes, on the other we have Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk scoring on Carey Price. Hmmm.

The thrilling nature of the one-off elimination format is that, regardless of how each team got here, it’s going to be decided by one 60-minute game between two amazing rosters. Certainly the USA has looked more convincing; no one has been able to quiet them as the Finns and Latvians managed to frustrate the Canadians. That probably doesn’t mean much, given a game spent taking 60-shots, and double that in shot attempts, through the human wall of Latvia is an entirely different animal than playing the US. The Americans have looked great rolling their mostly-constant lines and scoring 20 goals over 5 games (to Canada’s 13).

Kessel still leads Olympic scoring with five goals and eight points in four games. Given Grabner, Radulov and Datsyuk have all been eliminated, Erik Karlsson (one point behind Phil) is going to be his only competition for top spot in the scoring race.

Screen Shot 2014-02-19 at 4

After JvR opened the scoring on a dirty goal from the side of the net, Kessel scored Team USA’s 5th goal in today’s convincing win over the Czech Republic. Watch how fast Kessel travels from the red line to the back post to create the cross-crease opportunity:

Kessel and JvR were just a fraction off of whipping up some more magic as well:

It’s also great to hear The Phil’s abilities are so spellbinding they’re causing a rift in the Chicago Blackhawks dressing room among their best two players:



Kulemin returns to Toronto early

Meanwhile, it was big disappointment for the Leafs‘ other Olympic participant, Nikolai Kulemin, and host country Russia after their 3-1 defeat to the Finns this morning. Kulemin, who played with Artem Anisimov as his center (mostly Vladmir Tarasenko or Alex Semin on the other wing), didn’t record a point but his line didn’t get scored on at even-strength, either.

In an effort to boost his spirits, let’s commend Kulemin for a couple of great games at center ice before the Leafs went to break. In the Vancouver game, Tyler Bozak deserved the praise he received for an excellent shift in the build up to the Phil Kessel 2-1 goal, but more great pivot play was display on the opening goal by Mason Raymond, by the center who wasn’t a center in the NHL until one game previous.

There are a number of things to like about this shift from Kulemin that go into making the goal happen, starting 200-feet away from the Vancouver net:

  • Providing down-low support to create an outnumbered situation on the back board of the defensive zone, he collected a loose puck while Morgan Rielly tied up his man in the corner, before sending a pass to Raymond on the sideboard to get the breakout started. Initially facing the end board with the puck on his backhand, his first thought was to ring it the other way, but pivoted with a Canuck forechecker to his left and right and sent the puck to Raymond.
  • After Raymond did his job on the half wall to advance the play, Kulemin hustled up ice and made a good read on the play as he arrived as the F3 on the ensuing sequence in the offensive zone. The puck went behind the back of the net, and Kulemin sniffed out where it was going to arrive on the ring-around and was already there. He picked up the puck and slid a nice little backhand pass to Raymond in the slot.
  • Kulemin skated across the zone supporting the puck carrier as Raymond headed left and passed off to Gunnarsson. With Raymond supporting Gunnarsson’s pinch after that, Kulemin went to the net and nearly scored on a loose-puck scramble.
  • After the puck worked its way back up the left side, he identified that Raymond was now charging down the board and took up the support position while Gunnarsson got back.
  • Kulemin received the puck in that position inside the blueline and sent a good slap-pass deep to Raymond in the corner. Kulemin actually stayed at the point while Gunnarsson went to the front of the net and provided the screen. Raymond walked around the far side of the net and put one through Roberto Luongo.

There’s also that great pass to Raymond in stride for the opening goal vs. Tampa Bay:

That’s perfect pivot play on that shift vs. Vancouver. Having all of Tyler Bozak, Nazem Kadri, Dave Bolland, Peter Holland and Jay McClement healthy for the first time will be a blessing, but it’s nice to know Kulemin is another solid option at center in a pinch. It only adds to Kulemin’s versatility and often under-appreciated repertoire.

It was also interesting to see Gunnarsson take off toward the net twice during that play, once on a little drive to the net with the puck and the other where he went to the net and provide a screen on Luongo. There was also this rush by Gunnarsson the game before versus Tampa Bay, remember:

Gunnarsson has seven points and 12 shots in his last fifteen games after just four points and 26 shots in his previous 44.


Leafs Practice Quotes

Second in points (one back of Malkin) over the past three seasons combined still isn’t enough for the “one of the best” label?

This was pretty cool and humble of Tyler Bozak:


Here’s your Bolland updates:



Cookies. Cookies everywhere:

Previous articleDave Bolland updates his condition
Next articleTeam Canada vs. Team USA Preview
Founded in 2008, Maple Leafs Hotstove (MLHS) has grown to be the most visited independent team-focused hockey website online (Quantcast). Independently owned and operated, MLHS provides thorough and wide-ranging content, varying from news, opinion and analysis, to pre-game and long-form game reviews, and a weekly feature piece entitled "Leafs Notebook." MLHS has been cited by: ESPN, Sports Illustrated, CBC News, USA Today, Fox Sports, Yahoo! Sports, NBC Sports, TSN, Sportsnet, Grantland, CTV News, CBSSports, The Globe & Mail, The National Post, The Toronto Star, The Toronto Sun, Global News, Huffington Post, and many more.